A delicious, grilled sandwich that's the best for late-night noshing or a midday snack. This recipe for Ham and Cheese Toasties was inspired by a pub lunch in Limerick, Ireland, a Delectable Destination.
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After a day visiting Dingle, we had dinner in Castlemaine and the next day set out to visit the city of Limerick. Our lunch in Limerick inspired my recipe for Irish Ham, Cheese, and Onion Toasties!
The recipe is first, then find stories of this leg of our Ireland journey, in Castlemaine and Limerick, right after the recipe.
What's a toastie?
We had our first cheese, ham, and onion toasties in Ireland. Once home, I began researching this tasty, hot sandwich and found this funny and very helpful article from The Guardian.com on what a toastie is and what it is not.
In short, a toastie is simple. Delicious, yes, but humble. It's a mid-afternoon or late-night snack, a lazy Saturday lunch, or (quite popularly) a post-hangover meal.
A toastie is made of basic white bread, ideally buttered on the outside, with fillings like cheese, ham, and mustard. Beans are acceptable on this sandwich, but in general, it shouldn't include anything too gourmet or fillings that will leak out. The sandwich is compressed and grilled to fuse everything together.
In the States, you probably know this as a grilled cheese sandwich, grilled cheese with ham, or a ham and cheese melt. In Ireland, it's also called a toasted special or pan sandwich.
So yes, you could say that this is an Irish grilled cheese, but the sandwich we had in Limerick was somehow better than that. It was a perfect toastie.
Toasties in a pan
The toasties we had at the pub in Limerick were griddled in a panini press with flat plates. There are also toastie makers that grill the sandwiches into sealed, little pockets. (Similar to a sandwich maker like this one. I used to have one in my apartment!)
However, even if you don't have these appliances, the good news is that it's easy to make a toastie without a toastie machine. Make them in a pan on the stove, and use a weight to press the sandwiches down while they cook. This fuses the fillings together as the cheese melts. It's all in the recipe below.
Why you'll love these sandwiches
Whether for a weekend lunch, an after-school snack, or when you crawl home from the pubs, Irish ham and cheese toasties are so delicious. You can assemble them quickly, and they grill up in just a few minutes.
My recipe pairs thinly sliced deli ham and cheddar cheese with spicy mustard and sauteed, diced onions. You can even add baked beans for a more filling, hot sandwich.
For the most authentic experience, open a bag of cheese and onion Taytos to eat with your toastie sandwich. A pint of Guinness, Harp, Killian's, or other good Irish beer doesn't hurt either.
🔪 How to make Ham and Cheese Toasties
- Sliced white bread: The cheap stuff is okay
- Canned baked beans: Optional, but they are tasty inside toasties
- Sliced ham: I like smoked but any type will do
- Sliced cheese: Cheddar here, or try Swiss or provolone
- Diced sautéed onions: Softened and translucent is how they should be
- Mustard: Any type you like
- Butter: Spread on the bread before toasting
Step 1: Assemble the sandwiches
Butter the bread, then spread the other sides with mustard. Add cheddar, ham, and sautéed onion. (And beans too if you'd like!) Put the sandwiches together.
Step 2: Toast them
Place the sandwiches in a hot frying pan. Compress the sandwiches in the pan with a small cutting board or plate topped with something heavy, like a canned good. Grill it for a couple of minutes, then flip the sandwich and cook for another few minutes.
Step 3: Slice and serve them
Slice the toasties in half and serve them hot, with a side of Taytos Chips if you have them!
It's easy to make sautéed onions
Quickly make diced, sautéed onion for this sandwich by finely dicing some yellow onion. Heat up a little oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté and stir the onions for about 5 minutes until they are soft and turning translucent.
I like the flavor of cheddar cheese in this sandwich, but other good, melty cheeses you can try include Swiss, provolone, Monterey Jack, or Havarti.
Try other deli meats like smoked turkey or thin slices of roast beef. Pickled red onions would also be quite tasty. I like a little mayonnaise on my toasties, and chilli sauce is also very good. (Like my homemade Chilli Sauce or Ballymaloe Sauce.)
Just remember: don't get too fancy (it's just a toastie) or use too many fillings that will end up leaking out of your hot sandwich.
- If you have a panini press, you can toast the sandwiches with it instead of the skillet. Ideally, you will toast the sandwiches with flat plates.
The best Ham and Cheese Toastie recipe is below. Here are more posts about our trip to Ireland, and the recipes it inspired:
💬 How do you like the ham and cheese toasties? Leave a comment below.
Ham and Cheese Toasties
- 4 slices white bread
- 2 tablespoons butter, salted
- 2 tablespoons mustard (or mayonnaise if you'd prefer)
- 3 ounces sliced cheddar cheese (about 6 thin slices)
- 4 ounces sliced ham (about 8 thin slices)
- 3 tablespoons diced, sautéed onions (thin slices of pickled red onion would also be tasty here)
- ¼ cup canned baked beans (optional)
Assemble the sandwiches:
- Lay out the slices of white bread and butter the top sides of them. Set two of them aside.
- Flip them over, and spread two of the slices with the mustard. Top each mustardy slice with one slice of cheddar cheese.
- Divide the ham in half and pile it on top of the cheese. Top the ham with the diced sautéed onion divided between the two sandwiches.
- If you are using beans, spoon the beans over the diced onion on both sandwiches.
- Finally, divide the remaining slices of cheddar and place them over the fillings. Top each sandwich off with the two slices of bread you set aside, buttered sides up. (Both sides of the sandwich should have the buttered sides out.)
Toast the sandwiches
- Heat up a medium skillet over medium-low heat. If you are using a sandwich press turn it on and heat it up, ideally using flat plates instead of grooved. Place the assembled sandwiches in the hot pan or press.
- For a press: close the lid to compress and grill the sandwiches for 3-4 minutes until the bread is toasted on the outside and the cheese is melty. For a skillet: place something heavy on top of the sandwiches to compress them, like a small cast-iron skillet or like I did: a small cutting board weighted down by a jar of jam or a can of beans. Grill the sandwich for about 2 minutes until the bread is lightly browned. Flip it over, compress it, and grill for another 1-2 minutes. The cheese should be melted and the bread toasted on both sides.
- Slice the sandwiches in half and serve them immediately. I suggest enjoying them with cold Irish beer and a side of Tayto Cheese & Onion chips.
- You can quickly make diced, sautéed onion for this sandwich: finely dice some yellow onion, and heat up a little oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté and stir the onions for about 5 minutes until they are soft and turning translucent.
Travels in Ireland: Dinner in Castlemaine
When we returned from the Slea Head drive in Dingle to our room at Murphy's Farmhouse in Castlemaine (Caisleán na Mainge,) it was time to grab dinner. Fortunately for us, there were two restaurants within walking distance, and we decided to go to The Anvil Bar & Restaurant right down the lane.
This area was a fairly quiet and rural one, and the folks eating and drinking at The Anvil seemed to be mostly locals. Inside we found a booth by the front window where we could settle in and enjoy the friendly atmosphere.
Instead of having a pint my sister and I decided to try some Irish whiskey. There was a helpful guide in the menu to point us toward the best whiskey for the uninitiated.
We decided to try a local single malt, from the Dingle Whiskey Distillery.
On its own, it was smooth and very clean tasting. With a little ginger ale, it was quite pleasant indeed—a nice way to unwind from the day.
We enjoyed it so much that we debated stealing the glasses etched with the Dingle Distillery logo. But our morals got the better of us, and we decided just to ask to buy some. Our waitress told us that our two Dingle glasses were the only ones the bar owned!
We began with grilled goat's cheese crostini and the star of that appetizer was the zingy red onion marmalade that came with it.
Mom tried hake for the first time, a locally-caught whitefish that John, our driver in Inishmore had told us was in season at that time of the year. It came battered like a traditional fish 'n chips platter, and she really liked it.
My sister and I had the "Truly Irish Roast of the Day" which our waitress warned us would be the size of a big Christmas dinner. And she was right: thickly carved slices of roast turkey and ham alongside steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, and a lake of dark, rich gravy.
We feasted on the massive entrees while watching on the bar television snippets of the Rose of Tralee Pageant. Young women from Ireland and abroad (12 from the U.S.) compete to be the next Rose of Tralee, judged on beauty, personality, ambitions, and social responsibility.
On our last morning at the lovely Murphy's Farmhouse, I decided to skip the enormous Irish breakfast and had cheddar on toast, which is just as simple as it sounds yet was so rich, gooey, and delicious.
We talked with the owner Mary about our Irish heritage and family names (Riley, Reilly, Fennessey, Lavin, Haren), and then about our plans to head to Limerick for the day. She told us that as a child she knew a family from Limerick with the surname Lavin.
Off to Limerick
We had two goals for our day in Limerick (Luimneach:) to buy hurleys (the sticks used in the game of hurling) for our sons, and for my sister to get a tattoo. She had achieved everything on her Ireland bucket list (try Irish whiskey, have a pint in a pub, get a selfie with a sheep) and the tattoo was all that remained.
She'd been keeping her eye out for a tattoo place as we traveled, but we hadn't come across any. (I'm sure there were plenty in Dublin but not in the tiny area we explored!) When she checked online in Limerick, she found one: Chapel Street Custom Tattoos.
In contrast to the area of Dublin that we had explored, Limerick felt very urban. The majority of the people we saw were residents—heading to work, taking lunch, and pushing babies in strollers.
As we walked we saw lots of bakeries and cafés, several butcher shops with beautifully lavish displays of meats and fish, with the butchers all in striped aprons and bowler hats. One of these butchers gave us directions to a local tea shop where we bought some Irish teas to take back home.
We also figured Limerick would be a perfect place to pick up the hurleys, as they had just won the All Ireland Championship that week, their first championship win in 45 years.
There were still green and white flags hanging in shops and strung across the streets in celebration of the All Ireland win, and we heard from a few shop owners that it had been quite the party when the team came home with the trophy.
We found our hurleys and sliotars in a local sporting goods shop. The young man who helped us looked just like Colin Hanks!
What the heck is hurling?
Hurling is the national sport of Ireland and variations have been played there for thousands of years. The matches are played on a field longer than a football field, and players run and collide the length of it endlessly while trying to score.
The sticks (hurleys) are similar to field hockey sticks but with a flared end tapered like a blade. With that stick, you can hit the sliotar (a small ball) on the ground or in the air. You can bounce the sliotar on the end of that stick—while running! You can hit it with your hand. You can hit other players with that stick... or with your fist. (Well, at least in the video I watched they did.) It is really wild.
While watching the videos I wondered if hurling had been, in part at least the inspiration for the game of Quidditch in the world of Harry Potter. The sliotar in hurling is about the size of the Golden Snitch, and like Quidditch, the sport has its brutal moments!
Cheese toasties for lunch
My sister found the Chapel Street shop and made plans with the owner to return in a short time for her tattoo. Right across the street was Charlie Chaplin's Pub and we headed in to find some lunch. As it was pretty early in the day and the bar had just opened, the only treats they had to offer us were toasties.
This was not the first time we had seen toasties on menus during the week. When I had asked at one restaurant if a toastie was just a grilled cheese sandwich, a waitress told me that it was but that you "could put anything inside it."
At Charlie Chaplin's Pub, the toasties consisted of ham, onion, and cheese and were served with Tayto Cheese & Onion chips (which mom fell in love with! Seriously, she ordered a case of them once we got back home!)
The toastie was pressed in a panini press (but with flat plates, so there were no ridges on our sandwiches.) The cheese was melty, the bread toasty and buttery, and the whole thing really hit the spot!
While my sister got inked, my mom and I did some more wandering. We stopped in a café for tea and Americano, brown bread with butter, and a decadent tiffin which is a sweet bar of digestive biscuits (like Graham crackers) crushed and suspended in chocolate. We found a yarn shop for mom to explore, and a second-hand store where I bought a 45 of the song "Only You" by Yazoo.
And a short time after we left her, my sister was done. Her tattoo has her sons' names (my nephews) written in ancient Ogham. Made of lines and crosshatches, it was the first language of Ireland.
With that our Limerick day was done, and we were off to our final B&B of the trip: the Dunaree B&B in Bunratty.
Hello! I just got back from Ireland with my sister and two other friends. We were on a knitting tour. We have the pleasure of having one of these toasties and fell in love with it! Thanks for posting the recipe. We really enjoyed our visit and I can't wait to go back again!!
Aren't they good? My mom and I went to Ireland again last month and had toasties everywhere. I hope you get to try my recipe and make some at home! Speaking of knitting, we were in a knitting shop in Kinsale and the owner told us about an international sock knitting competition called Sock Madness - have you heard of it? She was so excited to tell us about it! 🙂
I liked your recipe very much, however it didn't produce the toasted special that I was looking for. In my recall the toasted specials did not have butter on the outside just crunch. Ofter served in a wax paper bag, for the life of me, I can't reproduce it. But thanks for a great effort, I lived in Ireland for 8 years and am pretty sure of the texture of this toasted special, I kick myself in the butt for not nailing it then before my husband and I moved back to the states.
Thank you for giving my take on Toasties a try! That's so interesting about the Toasties you used to have. (And I didn't know they're also called Toasted Specials!) It sounds like the outside of the sandwich was dry-toasted - no butter, just bread directly on the skillet. I'll have to try making one that way soon to taste the difference.
We loved our short visit to Ireland. Where did you and your husband used to live?
I loved having a "toasted special" at the pub when I lived in Shannon. Butter on in the inside with dry toasted exterior. Perfect with a pint!
I wish pubs here would serve pints with a toasted special!
The Armchair Squid
Yeah, we need to talk more about your trip sometime! Great post. I would love to see hurling! And I love your sister's tattoo.
Didn't know you were a whiskey fan. I love the stuff! Maybe we should plan a whiskey tasting sleepover party sometime. Or, once all the kids are out of the house, we should plan a trip to Kentucky/Tennessee for the four of us. Bourbon... mmm...
I agree, her tattoo is awesome!
I love the idea of a sleepover and field trip to the south. Yes, let's get together soon and get our whiskey on!